In my experience…resource management requires foresight
I was watching a soccer game the other day (unsurprisingly), observing the various people involved…athletes, coaches and referees. They each had their own roles, and all were in a state of constant decision-making. Athletes either proactively or reactively modifying what they did and where they were based on the play at any given time. Coaches directing the players on the field and strategizing about position changes or substitutions. Referees making split-second decisions on whether to make a call or let play continue.
My usual mode of game-watching is mindless enjoyment regardless of the result on the field. I was viewing this particular game differently though because I was comparing it to how I approach my professional life. Subconsciously or consciously I’m always making decisions about the ‘resources’ that comprise my ability to do work. The subjectivity and vastness of choices as well as the associated rationale in everything I do can be overwhelming due to the nearly infinite possibilities.
In my experience, resource management requires foresight. Resources can be internal or external, they can be limited or unlimited, they can be controllable or uncontrollable. Foresight includes the ability to predict (to the extent possible) an outcome, the ability to influence the outcome and / or the ability to adapt to any outcome.
As a leader (i.e. boss, coach, influencer) we have access to, and varying degrees of control over, resources in everything we do. Internal resources include our own time, effort, optimism, energy and knowledge. External resources include other people, money, technology, communication, transportation, etc. Most resources are limited (rarely are they unlimited), but there are vast differences in those limitations.
Leaders balance the use of all available resources for the purpose of accomplishing goals. The challenge is to determine what the right balance is at the right time. I typically view the ideal state from the perspective of a concept I learned in graduate school which is that of the ‘barely satisfied customer’. The premise of the barely satisfied customer is to not expend one iota more of a resource (of any kind) than is required to barely satisfy a customer. This implies that barely satisfied is a high enough level of satisfaction that the customer won’t complain and will come back. It also implies that any further investment of resources above and beyond achieving the ‘barely satisfied customer’ status is wasteful.
I’d like to say that I always know exactly when I’ve reached that point of ‘barely satisfied-ness’, but the truth is I don’t, and more often than not I likely over-invest resources just to be sure the customer is satisfied. The good news is that I’m usually (painfully) aware of the limitations of the resources I have access to, which helps mitigate over-investment.
While the ‘barely satisfied customer’ does in fact refer to actual customers, it’s also a euphemism for reaching a goal. If I’m a soccer coach trying to win a game and I’m winning 4-0 midway through the second half, I’m likely going to rest my starters and give others on the team an opportunity rather than tire my starters further who I may need in the following days for a tougher opponent. Similarly, if I’m (in business) testing a new product, I’m likely not going to go all-in on building out every possible feature on the product roadmap prior to actually testing its basic feasibility and viability and therefore burn time and money on a product that might not sell.
As a leader I have both responsibility and accountability to those around me. My ability to use the resources at my disposal wisely is critical to my success. To that end it’s important that I understand any expected outcomes, of which there could be many simultaneously, and have the foresight to achieve them.
Sometimes we can predict an outcome based on experience, facts and / or prerequisites that have been met, and therefore there’s a sense of control. Other times the outcome isn’t as certain, and we do what we can to influence it by the way we optimize the allocation of resources to achieve the best chance of a positive outcome. Alternatively, there are instances where the outcome is completely unpredictable, and our only recourse is to plan for either (or any) possible outcome. This likely results in the least efficient use of resources to achieve an outcome, however a mitigated less-than-perfect outcome is likely better than an unmitigated one.
We all have resources at our disposal that we identify, allocate and manage every day. The degree to which we’re successfully using these resources comes down to foresight.
Special thanks to Mike Harris for the insight regarding using the right resources at the right time, and to Christine Murray, who reminded me recently of the value of focusing finite resources on controllable outcomes.